“Welcome to reality”: Kweku Smoke’s Ghana is not a country of sunny beaches and sweet parties. On the contrary, Snoop Forever focuses on the streets, the poverty, the abandoned neighbourhoods and the crime. The soundtrack of this eerie movie? Drill music, a rap subgenre born in the worst Chicago ghettos. This filthy sound, characterized by sinister melodies and augmented 808 bass, has served as a basis for many American and English artists to rap about their macabre acts. In Ghana, in recent months, the subgenre has met with huge success especially in Kumasi, the country’s second largest city, where rappers deeply relate to this dark and violent music. Kumasi has since been renamed Kumerica, a parallel city where young people feel better represented by Chicago gangster rappers than by sweet afro-pop singers. Kweku Smoke is one of the movement’s most worthy ambassadors. “When we started drill here, it was hard for people to even understand this kind of music”, he tells us. “Ghanaians, we don’t like hip-hop, it’s not our thing. But gradually, drill is taking over, most young people are doing it now. It’s a good way to promote hip-hop, and in our drill you can feel the local vibe”. Indeed, Kweku’s lyrics are not necessarily about murders, drug sales or gang wars like in the USA or London. However, Snoop Forever remains a striking testimony of the Ghanaian ghetto stories: “If you listen to this whole album, you feel the street vibes, the things the streets go through, the pain people feel on the streets. And it is also an album of determination, motivation and inspiration for people who don’t have it and who are going through pain. I hope that this album gets out there and touches each and every free guy out there trying to make it in life”.
If Kweku Smoke likes to rap about the difficulties of precariousness, he can also go deeper and explain the causes. In the gripping video of “On the streets”, accompanied by Kwesi Arthur, the rapper drives through the worst neighbourhoods of his city or gives a speech dressed as a priest, preaching his holy truths to his compatriots. “On this track, I was just trying to throw light on the living conditions of the kids in Ghana and Africa as a whole, because you can find similar things in Nigeria, Liberia and elsewhere”, he says. “The youth doesn’t have anybody for them on the streets, and there are more people like that out here in Ghana. I’ve been there before and I know how it feels like. How we don’t have anyone, no government caring for us, pastors trying to break up homes, all of that. I projected all that in a video. The chorus means ‘On the streets’, we don’t have anybody except God”. Drill music has seldom sounded so sad. The title of the album is just as touching, dedicated to Snoop, the rapper’s brother, who passed away during the project’s creation process. Kweku recalls this period without flinching: “I had a different plan for an album before this, but when I lost my brother I had to go back to the studio and do everything again from scratch, because my brother had been part of my music career. I grew up learning everything about music from him, having his CDs, learning from all the songs. I thought it wise to dedicate the whole album to him, and I feel some kind of relief now that I have done something for him. For his name, for everything, for his support. Now I know that my brother will be happy wherever he is and he will be proud of what I did”.
“My album sounds dark and hard because I wanted to project that side of me. I’m the hard type, I never give up, I’m always going to get what I want. It’s not anger; I’m just trying to show the hardness, the motivation and the pain in my rap”. On tracks like “Serious”, “Kwashe N****s” or “More”, these emotions are perfectly expressed. Two or three dance tracks are the exceptions that confirm the rules (“Tonight”, “Fine Girl”), but Snoop Forever is a pure rap album, at a time where the boundaries between musical genres are becoming increasingly blurred. “I’m a rapper!”, Kweku justifies himself. “This is my first official album, so I didn’t want to dress up as a singer”. To do this, the young rapper surrounded himself with a massive hip-hop casting: 10 artists, from “Rap King” Sarkodie to South African Emtee or Bosom P-Yung, his sidekick from the Krakye Geng. “I could have done everything by myself, but I didn’t want to be selfish”, he teases. And indeed, his tracks are being shared more and more. If Snoop will now live forever, we wish longevity to Kweku’s music.
Snoop Forever is out now.